Friday February 22, 2013

New Vt. guard chief faces fiscal challenges

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Vermont Air National Guard Brigadier Gen. Steven Cray says it’s an honor to be elected to the top post in the Vermont National Guard, but he’s taking office at a challenging time.

Cray is assuming command on March 1, the day the Department of Defense is scheduled to implement drastic cuts in military operations because of the so-called budget sequestration ordered by Congress.

Cray was elected overwhelmingly Thursday to the post by a joint assembly of the Vermont Legislature.

He’s a 30-year veteran of the Vermont Air National Guard and a veteran F-16 fighter pilot.

Cray says he’s hoping the Air Force will choose to base the F-35 fighter at the Burlington International Airport. He says it would ensure the guard has an important mission for 30 to 40 years.

Vermont launches new energy loan program

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Vermont is launching a new program to make low-interest loans available to businesses for renewable energy and efficiency projects.

Jo Bradley, CEO of the Vermont Economic Development Authority, says the initiative will consolidate and expand existing loan programs and is aimed at encouraging more private banks to get involved along with the state.

The Vermont Clean Energy Loan Fund is expected to provide up to $10 million in financing for energy efficiency projects undertaken by businesses.

Another, related loan fund will be devoted to loans of up to $150,000 for energy conservation projects.

N.H. panel endorses 15-cent gas tax hike

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- A House panel is recommending raising New Hampshire’s gas tax 15 cents over four years and dropping a plan to also increase vehicle registration fees.

The House Public Works and Highways Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend the tax increase to pay for road and bridge improvements. The bill would spread the increase on diesel fuel over six years to ease the impact on trucking companies. The full House next votes on the bill.

The original bill called for a 12-cent gas tax hike and a $15 increase in vehicle registration fees spread over three years.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Morse criticized the proposal as the wrong recipe for improving the economy. The Salem Republican is sponsoring a casino bill to raise money for highway and bridge improvements.

New Hampshire rests its case in groundwater pollution lawsuit

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Lawyers for New Hampshire have wrapped up the state’s case against ExxonMobil for the alleged pollution of groundwater from a gasoline additive.

The trial on the lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Citgo began Jan. 14, and is shaping up to be the most complex in state history. Two days after the trial began, Citgo agreed to settle, saying it would pay the state $16 million to detect and clean up groundwater contamination by the additive MTBE.

ExxonMobil lawyers will begin presenting their case March 4, after a scheduled week off.

The state claims that gasoline containing MTBE was a defective product and that the oil companies had a duty to warn state officials about its special properties. ExxonMobil lawyers say MTBE did what it was supposed to -- reduce air pollution.

Possible mammoth tooth found near New Hampshire waters

RYE, N.H. (AP) -- A New Hampshire fisherman who’s discovered whale vertebrae, porpoise skulls and an old fuel tank that he thought was a treasure chest may’ve hit the big time: a possible mammoth tooth.

Mike Anderson of Rye was fishing for scallops near Rye Harbor on Tuesday. He noticed a 6-inch-long, triangular object mixed in with the scallop shells and rocks.

Will Clyde, a University of New Hampshire associate professor of geology, says it may be a fossil mammoth tooth.

He says mammoth and mastodon bones have been dragged up before between the Seacoast and the Isles of Shoals, although they’re more commonly found in the western and southern parts of the country. He wants to take a closer look.

Anderson said he wants to find a tusk next.